Community, Connections, People
The Grove Hubs: Making a Difference for Youth Mental Health
Curated by Sophie Samek
Storytellers: Valentina Sarmiento and Abby Graham
October 24, 2022
The Grove Hubs is a mental health initiative that supports youth ages 12-26 to access the care they deserve. There are currently four sites, located in Fergus, Erin, Palmerston, and the newest addition at the University of Guelph. The Hubs were created to remove the barriers that youth face when seeking support. The Grove Hubs describes the mental health system as effectively “dividing youth into pieces” where they must navigate the system on their own. This system has many supports to offer however there isn’t an institution available to youth that offers a diverse array of supports in one facility. The Grove Hubs aims to eliminate the many referrals to different facilities and offer a space where all the pieces are available to youth in one place.
Valentina Sarmiento and Abby Graham are two youth ambassadors at the rural Fergus site. They have worked on many projects that have helped The Hub thrive. They say that The Grove Hubs is unique because they offer many informal and formal support systems that set them apart from other mental health initiatives.
Abby is a part of the Youth Engagement Group that focuses on talking to rural youth about what they would like to see at The Hubs. Through discussions with youth the biggest issue they identified is the lack of mental health support. Most youth are faced with commuting to a bigger city to receive the support they need, which is not always possible. Abby also works on Junior Youth Days which is an opportunity for younger people to come in and experience what The Grove Hub has to offer. She has also aided in the development of their free clothing store. The purpose of the store is to de-stigmatize youth needing clothes; they had noticed youth coming to The Grove daily in the same clothing and some expressed that they just didn’t have very many clothes. This gave the youth ambassadors the opportunity to develop a space where all youth can pick out clothing that they want regardless of how much money they have.
Valentina works as the Peer Program Coordinator where she develops workshops for Youth Wellness. These workshops are produced in collaboration with University of Guelph students who help to create and present them. Along with that, she has presented to different schools across Guelph, Elora, Arthur, and Fergus where she introduced The Grove to students. Lastly, she has taken on the role of assisting with The Grove podcast called “Get With The Grove” where she and others discuss different topics pertaining to mental health sometimes with the help of guests. When asked about the goal for the podcast, she said, “I think the main goal is just trying to get the youth voices to feel heard in any way, shape or form”.
Valentina comes from an urban background while Abby has rural roots. These different backgrounds have both shaped and changed their perspective while working in a rural community. When asked about this, Valentina shared that “for whatever reason, I have always had the idea that everyone was kind of separated and kept to themselves [in rural communities]. Like I said at the beginning I was so wrong, the community has come together and has been so supportive of what we're doing and wants to be a part of it so much”.
Abby, who had grown up in Fergus, shed light on the aspects of community engagement she has found in Fergus while living and working there. Although she agrees with Valentina that the community engagement is strong, she also brought to light some of the challenges in rural communities, “It is very hard to describe because on one hand you have this really awesome and great supportive community, but it can also be a very divided place. Through working here, I have really seen that divide, especially within the wealth gap here in Fergus”.
Working for The Grove Hubs, Valentina and Abby have had the unique experience of witnessing firsthand the growth of the young people who stop by on a regular basis. They shared that at first many youths were skeptical or unsure of whether this is a place to hang out or just to receive support. However, as The Hub has evolved, they've seen that youth are finding the balance of using it as a multi-dimensional space where they can come and play video games, pick out clothing, meet new people, hang out during their lunch, and access mental health support whenever they want. “We’ve seen a lot of friendships flourish,” said Valentina. “It is definitely a place for youth to build so many connections not only with other youth but with the services we provide as well” Abby adds.
When asked what sets The Grove apart from other mental health initiatives many things came to light but most importantly accessibility and diversity. The Grove wants to give youth every opportunity possible to access its services and provide a wide range of support that accommodate everyone. “One big thing is The Grove was designed by youth for youth,” said Abby. Valentina adds to that with “the rooms, the furniture, the art, the programming, everything that is happening here are all ideas that have come from youth which is not something that you typically see”.
Talking to Abby and Valentina, it is clear that The Grove Hub is having a big impact on rural youth. They want to make sure that all youth can access the services and support they need, whether it’s providing formal support such as on-site counsellors, or informal support such as a place to hang out and have fun. Abby said it perfectly “just because you live in a rural community doesn’t mean that you struggle any less than someone from a city”.
When asked if there is anything else they wish for others to know about The Grove Hubs, Valentina and Abby shared that The Grove has it all. “You can come in here about literally anything and we can connect you to somebody or probably have someone on staff that can tell you exactly what you need to know,” said Abby. “We are everything and more” Valentina adds.